Students Encouraged to Create at Comic Expo 2017

Students encouraged to create at Comic Expo 2017

Isabella Reeves reviews student work and portfolios during the Comic Expo. Photo by Bob Toy.


Amid all the jokes and laughs heard at the Academy of Art University’s School of Illustration Comic Expo 2017, one thematic piece of advice heard in nearly every panel was this: Do more than just your homework.

What that means is, as explained by comic book artist, illustration alumnus and instructor Ben Jelter, the homework done in school is just practice. Especially for aspiring comic creators, working on an outside project can help jumpstart your career. 

“When you do work for yourself and not a class, then you’ll do something you actually like to do,” he said to the panel audience on Saturday, April 8. “I started my own project while I was still in school. I think it’s important to have something like that because once you stop school, you stop working.” 

The Comic Expo was an all-day event that benefited students pursuing a career in comics. The panels covered several topics on both the creative and business perspectives. Whether it was the general process of making a comic book to how to crowdfund a project, the expo ran through the gamut of comic producing. Some of the featured speakers also conducted art demos and offered to do portfolio reviews with Academy students in attendance. 

For second year illustration transfer Cody Owens, the expo wasn’t just an opportunity to learn, but to hustle as well. He brought his portfolio of comics—including his eight-page ashcan, a publication produced for legal purposes such as copyright—to be reviewed by DJ Kirkland, artist of “The Black Mage.”

Students encouraged to create at Comic Expo 2017

(L-R) Comic Expo guests Benjamin Dewey, Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle. Photo by Bob Toy.

Students encouraged to create at Comic Expo 2017

(L-R) Comic Expo guests Daniel Barnes, DJ Kirkland and Donny Cates. Photo by Bob Toy.

Students encouraged to create at Comic Expo 2017

Comic Expo guests Isabella Reeves (left) and Daniel Barnes (right) with School of Illustration Director Chuck Pyle. Photo by Bob Toy.

“[These events are] a mix of pleasure and just getting yourself out there,” Owens said. “DJ did a good job on telling me how to push myself and make it better. It’s nice to hear from someone that is a professional that they like your work. It’s a push in the right direction.”

Jelter was joined by several other professional comic book artists, including Donny Gates (writer for “God Country” and “Star Trek”), Jason McNamara (“The Rattler”) and Benjamin Dewey (“The Autumnlands” and “The Tragedy Series”). 

A few speakers were also Academy alumni who had gone on to produce successful indie comics: Greg Hinkle (“Black Cloud” and “Airboy”), Mark Simmons (“Doctor Mordrid” and illustration instructor) and Matt Harding (“Doctor Mordrid”). 

“It’s surreal to be back here as a speaker because I wasn’t a student too long ago attending these types of events,” said Harding, who graduated in 2015. “[Speaking here] is like one of those boxes you tick off to help you realize you’re making it.” 

In addition to tips on producing comic books, much of the expo was also about exposing students to alternative comic-related job opportunities. Several of the speakers started out as retailers, while others booked commercial gigs to earn money while working on their own comic book pursuits. 

Many spoke about creating balance for themselves and their work.

Between attending to clients’ needs and collaborating with comic writers and publishers, speakers such as Hinkle and Dewey owed patience and persistence to their success as artists in general. 

“You never know which job is going to lead to the right thing, so you just be persistent, do your best, make as many things possible and make things you like,” Dewey said. “What matters is execution. The difference between somebody who works in art and someone who doesn’t is who can get the job done.”

The alumni panel offered sage advice for its audience, and while it was comic-based in context, the words said could apply to students and artists across all disciplines. 

“Try to go above and beyond,” Harding said. “Try to integrate yourself into the community of artists within the school, but also outside of it. Constantly work for it—don’t just do the homework or go to the class, you want to do more than just that.”

Students encouraged to create at Comic Expo 2017

Academy of Art University alumni and guests spoke on a panel to give students advice on taking care of school work while also pursuing outside projects. Photo by Bob Toy.